Eclipse of the Old Elite in Nazi Germany

Hitler followed up his easy success in displacing von Blomberg as the head of the armed forces on the genuine grounds of his having married a former prostitute by displacing Jürgen von Fritsch as army commander-in-chief on the entirely spurious grounds that he was a homosexual (he was merely unmarried). Fritsch was no great supporter of the Nazis and had been indiscreet in saying so. The enfeebled state of the traditional officer class can be judged from the pitifully weak attempts made by his brother officers to shield von Fritsch from this slander. The men who replaced Blomberg and Fritsch – Keitel and Brauchitsch – were notoriously subservient. The promotion of Herman Goering to the rank of Field Marshal further underlined that power in the military had shifted to Hitler’s immediate entourage. Hitler completed his coup against the old elites by appointing Joachim von Ribbentrop as Foreign Minister, displacing Baron von Neurath, an old-style aristocratic diplomat who, like Blomberg, had still been willing to abase himself to the Nazi  regime. Ribbentrop was neither an old Nazi nor a competent diplomat (he had nurtured Hitler’s fantasy that King Edward VIII would swing Britain around to acting as Germany’s friend) but he was entirely biddable.

In widely publicized military manoeuvres around the newly opened fortified naval base at Singapore aircraft of the RAF “defeated” naval and air attacks. More out of a desire not to spend money than any true military calculation, the British government had accepted the RAF’s vigorously advanced claim that Singapore could be defended cheaply and flexibly by aircraft. After the huge expense of developing the base the budget was thus spared the cost of a large army garrison. The manoeuvres amounted to little more than propaganda that this strategy was the correct one. Four years later  harsh reality proved to be quite different.

A counter-offensive by Franco’s Nationalists sprang the trap on the Republican offensive in Aragon. The Nationalist attack featured one of the last major cavalry charges in history but it was broader military superiority rather than élan that spelt defeat for the Republicans, who had not merely failed to husband their scanty resources but wasted them in an offensive of dubious strategic merit. The first stage of the counter-offensive gave the Nationalists control of the high ground of the Sierra Palomera from which they could attack the now increasingly threatened Republican enclave in the city of Teruel, conquered with great fanfare and heavy casualties a short time before.